Naresh Kachoria, MBA EdM Executive Director of Step Up International ~ Dir. of Strategic Partnerships,World Ocean School (Boston, MA)
Naresh Kachoria’s Biography
Naresh Kachoria is a mission-driven leader and social entrepreneur building organizations, programs and teams that accelerate youth, community development and social impact outcomes. His work across nonprofit, academic and for-profit sectors focuses on creating pathways that lead to education, economic and social equity.
After an early career in marketing consulting and business management for financial services, technology and biotech clients, Naresh now brings a strategic business focus on planning, execution and measurement to his social impact work. He served as the Economic Development Advisor for an international NGO under a $16.7M USAID award in Botswana where we was responsible for leading the design and implementation of livelihood programs reaching more than 2,500 youth and young adults across nine districts.
Most recently, Naresh is the founder and Executive Director of Step Up International, an education nonprofit providing experiential learning and social development programs to children and youth from low-income communities. Naresh holds a B.S. in Advertising and an EdM in International Educational Development from Boston University, and a MBA from the University of Maryland.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
BSO: Tell us about the inception of Step Up International, which you founded 5 years ago and have been leading successfully cross culturally, across U.S., Africa and Europe.
I founded Step Up when I returned to the U.S. after living and working in Botswana for an international development organization on a four-year $16.7M project. My role was to build and lead an internal team and a coalition of more than 10 local community development partners across the country to design and execute an economic empowerment program for vulnerable young people affected by HIV/AIDS.
As I was wrapping up and preparing to return to Boston, I started to reflect on the experience and questioned if we had truly made an impact. My team and I worked incredibly hard on this project, sometimes 12-14 hours a day, so it was especially painful to conclude that in my mind we fell short. To me, we didn’t impact the lives of 2,500 people. We reached 2,500 people. There’s a big difference between impact and reach, or outcomes and outputs to use the non-profit lexicon.
Launching the non-profit, Step Up International, was my response to rectifying the lack of impact under that large project targeting vulnerable youth and young adults. Two guiding principles really drove the process of conceiving Step Up. One, the organization must be by the community, for the community. Local input and leadership must have equal influence from the outset in designing and executing our model, strategy and programs. And two, we were going to invest over the long-term in cultivating the potential, confidence and resilience of young people who most need our support.
After five years, Step Up remains the first organization in Botswana to provide year-round experiential education programs that educate, empower and inspire our kids with the social-emotional and 21st century skills to thrive from childhood to adulthood. We have grown from serving 12 students in grade five to 150 students from elementary to high school who come from communities confronting HIV/AIDS, poverty and teenage pregnancy.
While the local team in Botswana drives much of the decision-making, we have a cross-cultural team across the U.S., Europe and Africa that brings diverse perspectives, skills and ideas to our work. The strength of Step Up is the culture we have built that embraces global perspectives while allowing local leadership the ability to contextualize ideas and decisions.
BSO: There is no typical day in for mission-driven organizations creating and implementing social impact. Share with us your a.m. to p.m. schedule.
It’s really hard to say that I have a typical daily schedule. Because Botswana is either six or seven hours ahead of Boston, depending on the time of year, I have to be flexible and adapt to their workday since they start working while we’re sleeping.
I usually check email before 8am to make sure I have time to respond to urgent issues before they leave for the day. We’ll also communicate via WhatsApp when we’re in the midst of a collaborative project or waiting on each other for information. We have at least one team call a week, but we’ll have more if we’re working on deadlines or something unforeseen comes up. Most of these calls are between 7am to 9am my time.
The local team works really hard and our work in that environment can get exhausting. We’re working with kids who come from really difficult households and communities and this can take a toll on staff. I want them to stay energized, creative and entrepreneurial so I really encourage them to leave the Step Up Center as soon as our last group of kids leave so they can decompress and take time for themselves. Usually, they knock off around 11am my time/5pm Botswana and then I head to the gym or run to keep my mental well-being in shape as well. I’ll then come back and continue to work in the afternoon so they have the information they need from me by the time they return the following morning.
BSO: What are your ‘can’t live without’ apps?
We have a geographically dispersed team of staff, volunteers, donors and Board members across continents and time zones so the ability to easily and cost effectively communicate with each other becomes imperative. WhatsApp has been our go to app. It’s not flashy, but it’s a mission-critical tool for Step Up that allows us to remove barriers to collaboration and rapid communication with each other, partners and funders. We also use WhatsApp locally to communicate with our parents and caregivers, sending them regular updates about Step Up and photos of the Achievers excelling in our programs.
In Botswana, Facebook is a key platform for information sharing and almost everyone who has a smartphone is an active Facebook consumer. Our local team does a great job with the local Facebook page and that has led to partnerships, volunteers and funding from community sources.
And personally, LinkedIn has been an important app for me. I’ve recently transitioned out of my Executive Director role at Step Up and am exploring my next career move, preferably in Boston or the Washington, D.C. area. LinkedIn is probably the key job search and networking tool for most people today and it’s been a great way for me to network and connect with people. Feel free to contact me if you’re reading this and have a role to discuss!
BSO: What are your proudest achievements, professional & personal ?
My proudest professional accomplishment is conceiving and launching Step Up, especially in a country like Botswana. So many contextual factors indicated this was the wrong venture at the wrong time.
We built Step up to fill a gap and complement organizations in the community, not to replicate what already existed. It would have been easier to focus on HIV/AIDS work, but so many organizations were already doing that. Also, many advisors told me that funding was extremely difficult for social impact organizations in Botswana because all of the financing was going towards HIV/AIDS programs and research. And they were right.
To me, these were exactly the reasons why I had to start Step Up. If we didn’t start to build a pathway that would educate, inspire and empower these kids to overcome their social and economic challenges, no one else was going to do it.
But, the biggest achievement during this journey is the fact that we stayed true to our core guiding principle – building an organization by the community, for the community. After five years of leading and growing Step Up, we spent the last 12 months executing a transition plan that turns the organization over in full to the local leadership team and the local community.
Step Up is now an independent non-profit in Botswana with its own Board of Directors. While it’s certainly bittersweet transitioning out of my Executive Director role after pouring in so much blood, sweat and tears, I couldn’t be more proud of the team that embraced a new model, made it their own and is now going to carry Step Up into its next chapter. I know the community and the kids we work with are in more than capable hands with our local leadership and staff.
BSO: What are your favorite news feeds?
Personally, a few of my go-to news feeds are the New York Times, The Atlantic and Quartz. I’m not a super fast reader and am envious of folks who are fast and can consume more information. Wish I had that super power and wish I had more time to read.
Professionally, I enjoy Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), Harvard Business Review, EdWeek and The Hechinger Report.
BSO: What are your most rewarding charitable involvements?
I have always been an active volunteer supporting social impact organizations, even before transitioning to social impact work full-time. But the most rewarding experience outside of building Step Up was volunteering to support a refugee family that was relocated to Lynn, Massachusetts.
It was a family of six; five children under the age of 13 and their mother. They couldn’t find their father at the time they were selected for relocation to the U.S. from a camp in Ethiopia. But the mom decided it was in the best interest of her kids to leave as soon as possible. Can you imagine how difficult a decision that was to make? When they arrived in the U.S., she didn’t speak a word of English and I had to communicate with her through her oldest son and daughter. Those kids grew up fast. I visited them weekly and supported them for two years. We became very close before I moved to Botswana. We stayed in touch by email while I was overseas and then reconnected when I returned. It was incredible to see how much the kids had grown, and they were even reunited with their father!
I still stay in touch with the family though we don’t see each other as often as I’d like. The oldest daughter is now a pre-med student. The parents and the kids are a true inspiration and a remarkable symbol of resilience and perseverance.
BSO: You have an MBA and a Masters in International Education Development. You are very passionate about youth development. Who has influenced your career the most and what is your vision for your future career path? Also, how has Covid19 impacted your work?
That’s a tough question, but if I’m being totally honest I would probably say my father.
We didn’t get along well and we were not particularly close. But I always admired his journey from a desert village in India to becoming a doctor and starting his own practice in Upstate New York. I mean, how does a kid from a village where camels delivered water to households, where there was no electricity, where the nearest city was hundreds of miles away, where no one really finished school, much less went to university and med school, end up overcoming all of those odds? How does that happen?
I think that has always stuck with me – that my father was the exception to the rule. He wasn’t supposed to make it. So many kids who have just as much talent as my father and come from similar environments being left behind just because they’re poor, or don’t have access to basic resources. I think I always wondered, what if we could just give them a little nudge? Could that nudge change the trajectory of generations just like my dad’s journey changed the trajectory of his family, from living in poverty to one where I had, and my kids now have, almost unlimited choices and access to opportunities?
Since transitioning out of Step Up, I did step back quite a bit, limiting my time to advising or coaching the team as needed. With COVID-19 though, Step Up had to abide with Botswana government shutdown orders issued to businesses, schools and non-profit organizations. Because of the shutdown and the need for additional support to help navigate the ambiguity, I jumped back in a bit more to help the team develop a strategy to keep our Achievers engaged remotely while social distancing at home. Food insecurity has become an issue as well. I worked with the local team to secure emergency funding from a donor in the U.S. so we could provide six-months of food relief to our kids and their households.
BSO: What is your advice for anyone interested in a career in mission-driven social impact ?
My suggestion is to focus on an issue that you really care about and connect with folks at organizations working to address that problem.
I think you’ll find a lot of great organizations addressing similar problems in different ways. As you talk to people, try to identify organizations that approach the problem in ways that resonate with you. Continue to network within those organizations and make sure you are able to articulate how your skills and background can help to advance their work. They’ll want to know about more than just your passion for what they do. They’ll want to know that you can help solve problems and add value to their mission.
The other thing to remember is that a social impact/non-profit organization is a business. And just like a business, there are many roles within non-profit organizations. Whether you have a finance, operations, HR, marketing, tech or programs background, non-profits have diverse roles and needs.
You don’t have to be an issue expert to begin a mission-driven career. Good luck and keep an open-mind.
Happy to connect with anyone who is thinking about making the leap or a transition. Feel free to connect on LinkedIn, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.